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Planning Act 2008

Comment 2nd July 2010

Repeal

Why does this matter?

Visit any local authority website and search for "make a planning application" and once you have found your way through the byzantine complexities of their sites you will see what is specified for submission before an application can be validated and even begin the process. On the smallest application this can involve around 4 separate consultant's reports, on the largest up to 20. This act was brought in to speed up the planning process (and to pass the workload from local authority planning officers to those seeking approvals, primarily the private sector). It has been used as a useful vehicle to ensure central government targets are delivered, such as sustainabiity. The government sponsored website the "Planning Portal" is intended to reduce the amount of paper submitted. My first online application involved my spending 6 hours scanning, reformatting and reducing file sizes into manageable chunks below 8 Mb to be able to upload, only for the local authority to request hardcopies in any event, defeating the object. I will not use the service again, but continue to deliver hardcopy sets to the local authority.

The Planning Act has delivered auditability and possibly community involvement (although you will not have begun to understand NIMBYism until you've tried to make a planning application and I'm still scratching my head to understand what the elected local politicians are supposed to be there for if not representing the community).

Having made many applications under the Act, it is also the case that even when this mountain of paperwork is presented (an average size application can fill two 500 page photocopier boxes) and all is in order so it can be validated; even with planning officer support, there is no guarantee that the committee will grant approvals. Although there is a right of appeal, this is time consuming and at risk.

A developer seeking approvals now needs to provide a raft of supporting specialist reports, which cost a considerable amount of money (usually around £2,000-£5,000 per report), time and paper (usually these reports with appendices end up around an inch thick). One example recently is being obliged by the planning authority to pay an ecologist to stand in a field and count bird movements over a couple of days, which was added to his report on ecological assessments and mitigation strategies. Presumably someone sought the views of the statutory consultees and someone somewhere has read this, commented on it, queried it and archived it.

As an architect working in a recessionary environment with limited fee income, the time taken on form filling to gain approvals means there is no opportunity to work "outside the box" and certainly very little for designing beautiful utile places to live and work. The debate over whether expertise is valued and recognised and enables some professionals to deliver by signature alone is long lost.

The Local Development Framework process set up under the Act is currently proceeding in every local authority in the country. This is essentially a vastly more complex version of the local plans which were in place before the Act (some still current until replaced). This has also resulted in time, effort and cost by local authorities for (I would suggest) very little other than "community" involvement in the process.

The public sector aside, this whole process is costing the private sector time, money and patience when there is an identifiable urgent economic need for infrastructure, particularly housing, both for its own sake, but also as a way of growing our economy out of the recession.

The previous planning acts were quite adequate to ensure that development was in accordance with local authority strategic plans, and the decisions were made by locally elected officials. Sustainability targets can easily be met by the Building Regulations process (which they do at the moment and will do more effectively as they are revised).

A "root and branch" review of regulation of the construction process is very long overdue, including the absurdities and duplications of process involved in construction health and safety legislation, but the most effective and speedy way of reducing the impact of this particularly unnecessary act is repeal.

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